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Beowulf As The Archetypal Germanic Hero

2108 words - 8 pages

The epic and oral poem Beowulf illustrates a loss of community, cultural values, and tradition. Beowulf, the main character, is an ideal king and archetypal warrior. History is relevant to Beowulf; this Germanic society was being taken over by Christian missionaries who were seeking to convert this culture. The character of Beowulf is a reflection of the Germanic culture's virtues; heroism is emphasized in the text's multiple references and constant focus on heroes and what it is to be a hero. Beowulf, who is reflective of an older generation of heroes, strives for community. In contrast, Christianity's focus is on the individual. This conflict is ended once Beowulf, a figure of the past and the old world, passes on. With Beowulf, the hero dies. Hence, Beowulf's efforts to keep his culture and his ethics alive are impossible as war and Christianity conquer the Germanic land.

    Beowulf, physically and emotionally, is representative of the Germanic ideal hero. Beowulf is ?brave? (688), honest, and strong. One of the first scenes in the poem describes Beowulf?s arrival on the beach of a foreign land. Instead of fearing the large warrior that has arrived and summoning for help, the ?watchman? (229) is in awe of Beowulf. Before even getting to know Beowulf, the watchman thinks that this warrior is one of the strongest and noblest men he has ever seen: ?Nor have I seen/a mightier man-at-arms on this earth/than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken,/he is truly noble? (247-250). Therefore, Beowulf?s towering height and stature convince others that he is a hero. Like the typical hero, Beowulf gives boasts. While in Hrothgar?s kingdom, Beowulf defends himself against the kin-killer Unferth; Beowulf brags that he will kill Grendel: ?I will show him how Geats shape to kill/in the heat of battle? (602-603). This boasting is done to prove his valor and bravery. Beowulf fulfills his boast, further heightening his hero status: ?The Geat captain/had boldly fulfilled his boast to the Danes:/he had healed and relieved a huge distress? (827-829). Mimicking the archetypal hero, Beowulf is able to kill beasts many times his size. Beowulf is superhuman; he is the only warrior who can destroy both Grendel and Grendel?s mother. This feat, for the average warrior, is unfeasible. Another characteristic of a hero is to have a mysterious or unsuccessful background. Beowulf epitomizes this; as a youth, he was ?poorly regarded? (2183) by the Geats and was ?taken by the Geats/ for less than he was worth? (2184-2185). Hence, endurance and perseverance are additional characteristics of a Germanic hero.

    As magnificent as it may seem, Beowulf?s heroism is not a historical anomaly. His heroism, in fact, is a continuation of tradition. When Beowulf defeats Grendel, a ?traditional singer deeply schooled/ in the lore of the past? (868-869) sings ?songs about Sigemund?s exploits? (874). Although Beowulf has just won a battle, the singer chooses to sing about...

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